The Magic of A Simple Reframe
I was recently overwhelmed by a feeling of pure dread around dinnertime.
I worried that my newborn baby wouldn’t sleep and he would cluster feed all night. All I wanted was for my husband Sam to lay in bed with me, hold me in his arms, and let me cry. (A bit dramatic, but the nurses did say I’d be overly hormonal for a while.)
But all my fears never played out. Baby George would cluster feed until only 10pm and then sleep in between all his feedings until morning.
Sam was understanding but reminded me that I could always sleep whenever the baby slept. Sure it would be nice to have more pockets of time during the day to be productive, but ultimately, there were plenty of opportunities for sleep.
It’s amazing what a slight reframe did for my mental state. Suddenly I felt like the worst case scenario wasn’t so bad anymore.
Reframing a negative situation into a positive situation is a small shift in perspective that has massive benefits for a person’s overall mental well-being. But while the shift is simple, it might not be that easy to implement.
The Sunday Night Feeling
My anxiety and depression started in high school. I dreaded going to school.
I especially dreaded Monday morning because it was the first day of the long school week. Which meant Sunday nights were brutal. I called it “The Sunday Night Feeling.” There was so much dread of just the idea of going to school that I would enter a dark mental headspace every Sunday night. Sometimes I would cry.
And every Monday at school I’d be fine. Classes were still boring and tests were still hard, but school was okay. It was less about school and more about the anticipation of school. There were times when I didn’t dread it, like when it was a half day, or when there was a pep rally, or when I was super excited to see my history teacher who I had an inappropriate crush on. In these instances, school was essentially the same with only minor changes. But my entire outlook had changed.
I didn’t know many people who experienced The Sunday Night Feeling. It got to the point that I hated Sundays - a full day off that most people enjoyed - because the next day was Monday.
But recently I came across this tweet:
Kao urges us to get rid of the dread. But how?
The cycle of dread followed me into my 18 years working in the service industry. From the moment I woke up until my 4pm shift, there was a dark shadow over my day because I knew I had to work that night.
On the days I didn’t have work I woke with a pep in my step. Every so often, my boss would call on my day off: “Someone called out. Can you work tonight?” And I could, so I’d rush to get ready and head to the restaurant.
I didn’t dread it. I didn’t have time to dread it. And I actually had a productive and enjoyable afternoon because I thought I had the day off.
Wouldn’t it be better, then, to just pretend that I didn’t have work every day?
Or better yet, wouldn’t it be amazing if I just didn’t dread work every day?
Easier Said Than Done
It would be wonderful if we could take a bad situation, reframe it, and turn it into a positive one, but it all depends on your happiness level.
Happiness is difficult to gauge. If I wake up looking forward to the day and go to sleep looking forward to sleep, then I’m happy. I’m not agonizing over the past day’s events or worrying about the day tomorrow. I’m content.
By senior year of high school I was insecure about my body, overly concerned with what my peers thought of me, anxious about grades and tests, and sleep deprived. Typical high school stuff, but that didn’t make it any less difficult.
While working in restaurants I was completely obsessed with calorie counting and the number on the scale, and had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
During any of these times, if you suggested I reframe my situation, it wouldn’t have been that simple because I was too unhappy in my life.
Actor and recovering alcoholic Will Arnett explains how success, to him, means happiness:
“I don't peg my happiness on what I'm doing. I'm happy no matter what and then everything else just rolls out. For me, it's the lowest hanging fruit: are my kids happy, are my kids healthy, I'm alive today, I'm sober, I'm all those kinds of great things and everything else is gravy. And I've never been happier than I am right now in my life.”
Next time you’re in a shitty situation ask yourself, “What are the positives? How can I make this positive? What’s good about this?”
If you only have negative answers it’s time to ask the deeper questions: “What are the things that weigh you down? What are the obsessive, unhealthy thoughts that occupy much of your brain space?”
On my worst night with George he was up every two hours and it was difficult to put him down to sleep every single time. But all my happiness and love and gratitude to have him in my life poured over any negativity and allowed me to think more about his discomfort than my own. And in the meantime, I could listen to my favorite podcast or binge watch The Umbrella Academy on Netflix.
It starts with happiness. It might be a long road, but if you can make it there, unlocking the magic of a simple reframe is a pretty cool life hack.